Pennsylvania State Conference of the NAACP v. Schmidt

Location: Pennsylvania
Status: Ongoing
Last Update: April 10, 2024

What's at Stake

In November 2022, thousands of Pennsylvania voters were denied the right to vote based on a meaningless paperwork error. They filled out their mail ballots, signed the form on the outer return envelope, and returned their ballots on time. Yet their ballots were not counted, because they either forgot to write the date on their return envelope, or they accidentally wrote the wrong date. The Civil Rights Act prohibits states from disenfranchising voters based on immaterial paperwork error, and we’re fighting to make sure that every vote counts

The ACLU Voting Rights Project, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and Hogan Lovells filed a federal lawsuit to protect thousands of Pennsylvania voters from being disenfranchised based on a meaningless paperwork error.

In November 2022, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania interpreted Pennsylvania state law to require county boards of elections not to count mail ballots that had a missing or incorrect handwritten date on the ballot’s return envelope, even if those ballots were timely received by the boards of elections.

As a result, in the November 2022 election, Pennsylvania counties set aside over 10,000 ballots because voters forgot to write a date on a form on the back of the mail ballot return envelope, even though the date serves no purpose relating to a voter’s qualifications or the timeliness of their ballot. The Civil Rights Act clearly states that otherwise eligible ballots cannot be disqualified due to such immaterial technicalities as a paperwork error.

We filed a lawsuit on behalf of eight voters from across the Commonwealth, all of whom were disenfranchised in the 2022 general election because of the state rule prohibiting the counting of mail ballots with undated or incorrectly dated return envelopes, and on behalf of non-profit civic engagement organizations including the Pennsylvania State Conference of the NAACP, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, Common Cause PA, Make The Road PA, POWER Interfaith, and the Black Political Empowerment Project.

In November 2023, the district court granted summary judgment in our favor. The district court’s decision declared that the Civil Rights Act bars state actors from disenfranchising voters based on immaterial paperwork errors, and ordered that county boards of election update their records so that our individual plaintiffs’ votes are reflected in the vote counts for the 2022 election.

UPDATE: On Mach 27, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the district court’s ruling to count mail ballots from eligible voters that are received on time but without a handwritten date or the incorrect date on the outer return envelope. On April 10, we filed a petition asking the full court to rehear this decision.

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